EDITORS NOTE: This review was originally published as part of indieWIRE’s coverage of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival
“500 Days of Summer” is one of those quirky Sundance comedies that will show up at the festival until the end of time: A playful relationship comedy with broad strokes of bittersweet commentary, a simplistic crowd-pleasing sensibility and name actors whose names are synonymous with festival indies that aren’t actually indie. Produced by Fox Searchlight, “500 Days” revolves around greeting card designer Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his not-quite girlfriend Summer (Zooey Deschanel), who develop a strong emtional and physical bond, but can’t quite figure out how to define their relationship. Tom falls for Summer’s cutesy looks and temperament, but Summer has a problem with long-term commitment. The movie jumps back and forth between the solemn aftermath of their affair and its halcyon days, but the complex structure can’t hide the highly conventional nature of the material. “Memento” this is not.
Although not consistently hilarious, it’s hard to deny the movie’s basic charm. Director Marc Webb uses a handful of jokey techniques to create a sense of levity throughout the story, and it’s these moments that work beyond everything else in the mostly cliche-ridden plot. A brilliant post-coital dance sequence (presumably taking place within Tom’s head), coupled with a split screen sequence in the final act, suggest the potential of a subtler film. Nevertheless, “500 Days” still manages to be smarter than the industry standard for this brand of whimsical fluff.